The Asus Zenfone AR is among the first phones to feature the tech required to comply with both Google’s Tango and Daydream standards – its augmented reality and virtual reality platforms.
This phone is an excellent way to show off mobile AR and VR, and is solid in most respects. However, at £799, the price is high and the Zenfone AR doesn’t quite have the design impact, desirability, battery life or power of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ to justify that outlay.
Asus Zenfone AR – Design
The Asus Zenfone AR is clearly a phone for those who like to keep up with the latest and greatest in tech. As with a lot of other top-end handsets on the market, this is a rather large device that will prove a stretch for your fingers.
It isn’t only the 5.7-inch screen that’s to blame in this regard, however. A number of new phones are starting to slim their screen surrounds to the point of non-existence, but the Asus Zenfone AR sports a rather more conventional design. It’s roughly 72.5% screen front-on; way below the 84% of the Samsung Galaxy S8+. The higher that number, the more screen inches you get for that strain on your pocket seams.
There’s no curved glass to be seen on the Asus Zenfone AR, and there’s more plastic here than you’ll find on any other device at or around this price. It’s hidden, though.
The Asus Zenfone AR has a faux leather back, with fairly convincing-looking grain and feel, and its sides are aluminium – a familiar feature in a pricier mobile.
It may look like a fairly expensive phone, but the Asus Zenfone AR is nowhere close to feeling like an £800 one. Even the Samsung Galaxy S8+ only manages this once you’ve had a sit down and a drink to get over the shock of the price.
For a phone costing a fair whack, the Zenfone AR is missing a feature I’ve come to take for granted in expensive handsets: it isn’t water-resistant. On occasion, top-end phones offer a level of water-resistance even when the specifications list doesn’t say so. This isn’t the case here, it seems.
At one point, from apparently little more than use with a wet hand, the fingerprint scanner stopped working for a few days, potentially because water had seeped into the seam or the USB-C port. The Asus Zenfone AR is a phone you need to take care of, and not just because it costs more than some – admittedly very old, and probably rusty – cars.
All of this sounds rather negative, and it is, but in general the Zenfone AR is a pleasure to use. The front fingerprint scanner is reasonably fast; 64GB of storage provides plenty of space for downloads and your own files; and there’s also space for a microSD card in the SIM tray.
Asus Zenfone AR – Screen
The Asus Zenfone AR has, at the time of writing at least, one of the highest-spec screens found in a phone. It’s 5.7 inches, 2560 x 1440 resolution and OLED. Pixel density is excellent and image quality is similar to Samsung’s best, not least because it uses one of Samsung’s own PenTile panels.
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Contrast is superb, colours are excellent, and you can’t see the pixels when you use the phone normally. Its resolution is also great for VR.
When you first turn on the Asus Zenfone AR, it will be using its Super Color mode. This has the kind of intense, vibrant colour typical of a premium handset. It looks bold and lively, but isn’t an accurate way to judge your photos. It makes colours appear far more intense than they are in reality.
Switch to the Standard mode and colours become better-tuned, photos looking much the same as they do on my colour calibrated MacBook Pro. This also tones down Android’s icons, which can appear lifeless until your eyes adjust. I’d argue it’s the best mode to use if taking photos is one of your favourite phone pastimes.
The Zenfone AR also includes a blue light filter, known as Night Shift on iPhones, and a custom mode that lets you alter the display’s saturation and hue to your liking.
It can’t beat top Samsung phones for outdoor performance, however, which overdrive brightness and colour on bright days to improve visibility. Since the Asus Zenfone AR doesn’t do this, or not to the same degree, photos taken on sunny days are simply okay.